March 10, 2023
8 mins Read
For a lot of people, driving on Australia’s outback roads can be daunting.
It is remote country after all, where it is possible to go days without seeing another soul.
And while there are places out there with alarming names like ‘Hell’s Gate’, you shouldn’t let that stop you from road tripping along our red dusty highways.
With plenty of seemingly ‘untouched’ areas to explore and historical sites to see linking Far North Queensland to the Gulf of Carpentaria in the Northern Territory, we invite you to experience the beauty of the barren outback on a self-drive experience.
Grab your keys, dust off your swag, and prepare yourself for an awesome outback adventure.
After jumping on the must-do tourist attractions in Cairns, like the Kuranda Scenic Rail and Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, you might be chasing more of a slow-paced nature vibe.
Base yourself in Mareeba in Queensland’s far north while you take in the beauty of the nearby Crystal Cascades, Davies Creek and Emerald Creek Falls.
Ringers Rest offers low-cost country style camping with a personalised touch. They put on a communal campfire each night where you can swap stories with fellow travellers. Their RV park is also a landing point for the Cairns Hot Air Balloon service, so you can grab a great deal on ballooning yourself when staying here.
The Atherton Tablelands’ tropical rainforest landscapes will put you under their spell as you wind through green ranges, towering palms and wildlife havens, you can also camp here, check campingfunzone.com for more information.
Spot a burrowing platypus at the nearby Platypus viewing deck in Yungaburra. Kayak, fish or swim in Lake Tinaroo and travel just outside of Yungaburra to see nature’s incredible unpredictability and power by way of the Curtain Fig Tree.
Archer Creek on the Kennedy Highway has a lovely grassy area overlooking the flowing creek water, which provides a peaceful spot to roll out your swag – for free.
Visit Big Millstream Falls and stretch your legs on one of the short walking tracks, or by enjoying a picnic in the shaded day-use area.
Wander (carefully) through the Innot Hot Springs, a natural mineral spring with rejuvenating and healing properties. Be sure to seek out the cooler pools if you wish to take a soak as some of the water here is seriously scalding hot!
Routh Creek camp along the Gulf Developmental Road just outside of Georgetown offers one of the few croc-free waterholes to cool off in along the Savannah Way route, but don’t just take our word for it, as we all know crocs can move around in the higher water levels of a decent wet season.
Enjoy a refreshing dip in the free splash park/pool at Georgetown, before continuing on with your trip west.
Sightsee at the Cumberland Historic Chimney mine, Croydon’s Old Court House and the Blackbull Siding Railway as you drive along the Savannah Way.
Normanton offers travellers a 48-hour free camp just across the bridge on the edge of town. Visit the Library and Visitor Information Centre in town to grab your permit. Flick a line and catch a killer sunset over the Norman River, just remember to be croc safe by the water’s edge.
Scoot back into Normanton to check out the impressive replica of Krys – The Savannah King before packing up camp and pushing on towards the Les Wilson Barramundi Discovery Centre in Karumba’s town centre.
With unforgettable ‘Gulf’ sunsets, why not treat yourself and enjoy some delicious banana prawns and a beverage or two onboard a magical Karumba sunset cruise?
Karumba Point Sunset Caravan Park offers campsites or villas and cabins if you’re over ‘roughing it’ in your swag. Every second Wednesday they crank up the wood-fire pizza oven for a mouth-watering feed.
If you’re visiting Karumba between September to November, you may see the rare Morning Glory clouds roll in, like big white tubes in the morning sky. Take a stroll along the Town Walk before hitting the road for a little southern detour.
Take in the changing landscape and interesting termite mound shapes as you head along the Burke Developmental Road, checking out the Camp 119 monument that marks expeditioners Burke and Wills’ most northerly campsite from the 1800s.
North of Flinders River you’ll find a great little free camp off the side of the Burke Developmental Road. Watch the moon rise and the stars come out over the water before turning in for the night yourself.
Try a famous burger at the Burke & Wills Roadhouse, fuel up and continue along the Burke Developmental Road towards Gregory.
After setting up camp along the river, plan a day trip into the Boodjamulla National Park (Lawn Hill) where you can kayak and trek around the stunning gorge.
Gregory River Camp has the most incredible camping atmosphere. And with croc-free clear and fresh running water, I’d be willing to bet it’ll fast track to the top of your favourite campsites list by the end of your first night!
Grab yourself a coffee and fresh muffin from the Gregory Hotel in preparation for the next leg of your trip.
Visit the various historical sites around Burketown, such as the old Boiling Down Works; Landsborough Tree; and the volcano-shaped Artesian Bore and allow yourself to envision how different life would have been out here in the 1800s.
Burketown Caravan Park is a great base to explore the beautiful surrounding areas while having all the necessary facilities and a convenient stress-free stay.
Head to Doomadgee along the Wills Developmental Road to do a grocery top up out at the supermarket on Gunnalunja Drive where all profits go straight back into the Indigenous community.
Be prepared for the single-lane tarmac roads to disappear, and the tracks to start getting a little dusty and bumpy as you close in on your next destination. You’ll want to check tyre pressures in your vehicle and be more cautious of road hazards.
Hell’s Gate Roadhouse on the Savannah Way has a range of accommodation options to suit each traveller’s needs, and a decent menu if you’re searching for some food and beverages.
This is the last fuel stop for 320 kilometres, so you’ll want to fill up at the roadhouse’s quirky pumps before jumping the border into the Northern Territory on National Highway 1.
There are incredible bulging sandstone formations splashed all over the landscape, some giving phenomenal 360-degree views of the barren countryside.
Calvert River Crossing is another remote camp spot luring travellers who like the picturesque backdrop of pandanus-fringed rivers with the water cascading off into clear, shallow pools during full flow.
The 70-kilometre stretch along the dirt corrugated road on the Carpentaria Highway was probably the roughest on our vehicle. Depending on the condition of the road – and time since last grading – be sure to drive to conditions and alter tyre pressures where necessary for a smoother ride.
It’s truly one of the most beautiful stretches of road on the journey. You’ll find wild horses, cattle, kangaroos and plenty of birdlife along the way. Crawl over those causeways and see what else you can spot in the water.
Kangaroo Creek is an off-road free camp down by the creek. There are some tight tracks to get down to the site – but it is oh so worth it.
Driving such long distances will require multiple fuel stops and you’re about to need another one.
This time, after packing up camp, swing through the little town of Borroloola along the Carpentaria Highway, and while you’re filling the tank, grab a coffee to go and some hot food from the servo before continuing on to your final destination.
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